Class Act

©Cedric Ranchez

Kaimukī High School students prepare for culinary pathway

In an attempt to streamline a baking process, Maelani Iokepa made a “monster” mistake in her senior year at Kaimukī High School, miscalculating the ratio of oatmeal to flour in measuring the ingredients for a batch of cookies. It’s a story, she says, she will never “live down.”

“Instead of a single batch of 200 cookies, we ended up with quadruple the amount,” says Iokepa, laughing about the Monster Cookie blunder. “I was eating like a bag every other day and I never want to see another Monster Cookie ever again.”

Iokepa is among the graduates who have successfully passed through Kaimukī High School’s culinary program, which is led by longtime teacher Angela Inouye. For 36 years, Inouye has mentored thousands of students, many of whom have gone on to work at such restaurants as the then-Nobu Waīkīki and Halekulani, as well as at multiple hotels and Department of Education cafeterias.

As a sort of capstone project in their senior year, students are tasked with running a restaurant for five consecutive weeks, developing the menus, sourcing recipes, budgeting food costs, and running the front and the back of the “classroom.” It’s practical experience and one that provides these budding chefs a chance to show what they’ve learned during their junior and senior years.

In their own quick-fire-like challenge, the students have 80 minutes to prepare a lunch for teachers and visitors. And their time starts promptly at 10:21 in the morning. Walking around the classroom in preparation for her students’ arrival, Inouye gathers the necessary ingredients for the day’s Italian-themed lunch. She pulls out linguine and spices from the pantry, some chicken, shrimp and asparagus from the fridge, and, of course, fresh mozzarella.

“At the beginning of each semester, I tell the new incoming students that they better like to clean and serve, and not just like to eat,” Inouye says. “They have to have a passion for this industry or they won’t make it.”

Poised and polite, senior student Bailey Uehara aspires to be a chef but he’s realistic about the hard work and years of commitment it will require to achieve his goal. Reciting the menu options, the 18-year-old Kaimukī resident gets a lot of hands-on practice at school, as well as at Duke’s WaīKīki where he is currently an intern.

“I knew after taking Culinary 1 in my junior year that this was the pathway I wanted to pursue,” Uehara says. “I know it’s not like what’s shown on reality television programs but I’m ready to move forward.”

Since 2005, the Kaimukī culinary program has been a feeder school for Duke’s WaīKīki where many of the alumni have established careers, working up from interns to line cooks. Iokepa was the first intern placed at Duke’s and she has since earned the title of sous chef at sister restaurant Hula Grill WaīKīki.

“I worked at 103 different positions at Duke’s in the span of 10 years,” Iokepa asserts. “You name it I’ve done it, from food runner, pantry cook, line cook and positions that even no longer exist. It has been a great challenge and learning experience.”

According to Inouye, the program not only teaches students about restaurant operations, it also helps them develop work ethics and offers a few other life lessons. “I take great pride in seeing their growth,” she says. “They gain self-confidence and they learn to think for themselves, to anticipate what might happen.”

For Iokepa, the program — and Angela, as she now calls her — has been invaluable to her career, conceding that she wouldn’t be where she is now had it not been for her Culinary 1 class … even with the embarrassing Monster Cookie mishap.

“I’ll admit that I wasn’t the greatest student,” says Iokepa, who recently left Hula Grill to become the sous pastry chef with ABC Stores’ Island Gourmet Markets. “Angela was the only teacher who got to me and I wouldn’t be who I am today without her.”

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